One of the largest structural and cultural icons of the New York City skyline, The Chrysler Building broke records soon after the builders broke ground on its construction on September 19, 1928. Completed in 1930, the skyscraper has a fascinating and eclectic history fueled by…rivalry? In this piece, we’ll look at how two estranged business partners, fueled by a “beef” went on to help make the Chrysler Building a construction staple of the entire world.

The Chrysler Build Was Constructed From…Rivalry?

As New York City began to steal London’s world metropolis status at the beginning of the Roaring ‘20s, the Big Apple became a beacon of “bling” for those in the design and construction industry. One story of such fervor is the tale of two business partners turned rivals that resulted in two of the tallest buildings of their time. Architects Craig Severance and William Van Alen worked together on projects early in their careers but then grew part for reasons lost to history. At the time, the Woolworth Building held onto the status as the tallest building in New York City — a title that was sought after by both the builders of the Chrysler Building as well as the Manhattan Co. Building. While William Van Alen was hired to help Walter Chrysler build his monument to success in the form of the Chrysler Building, Craig Severance was hired as the architect of Manhattan Co. Building (now known as the 40 Wall Street Building or The Trump Building) to ensure that it remained tallest. It wasn’t long before a “race to the sky” had begun to take shape.

As planning and construction of the Chrysler Building and the Manhattan Co. Building proceeded, the designers and builders from either side would catch wind of the other’s ideas. While Van Alen’s vision of the Chrysler Building was an elegant monument to Chrysler’s accomplishments, Severance’s Manhattan Co. Building started to become a desperate attempt to gain as many floors as the building’s foundation could handle. Just when Severance thought his Manhattan Co. Building had bested his architectural foe in terms of sheer height, Van Alen’s complete design was fully unveiled to reveal a 185-foot topper for the Chrysler Building — a spire that was constructed in secret and installed later. It is this gradually increasing peak is what gives the Chrysler Building it’s iconic look to this day as well as what crowned the skyscraper the tallest building in the world in late May of 1930.

The ending of this story remains one of American ingenuity. Short of one year later, the title of “World’s Tallest Building” was bestowed upon the Empire State Building in early May of 1931.

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